Album reviews: Brent Cobb, Simian Mobile Disco, Jess Williamson, Beach House, Bad Wolves

‘Providence Canyon’ sees country artist Brent Cobb offering fresh tales of Southern life, while Simian Mobile Disco team up with the Deep Throat Choir on the banging ‘Murmurations’

Brent Cobb, Providence Canyon

★★★★☆

Download: King of Alabama, Morning’s Gonna Come, 30-06

Brent Cobb’s music is built around people and places. The country artist returns after the release of his acclaimed 2016 album Shine On Rainy Day with Providence Canyon; a slice of blue-collar country offering fresh tales of Southern life.

Authentic to the point that, on some songs, it sounds as though Cobb is singing with a toothpick clamped firmly between his teeth, Providence Canyon is more muscular than its predecessor and, for the most part, a heck of a lot of fun: an 11-song LP recorded in Nashville with Cobb’s Grammy-winning producer/cousin Dave Cobb.

“King of Alabama”, a poignant tribute to Cobb’s late mentor Wayne Mills that includes a credit for Mills’ son, Jack, is delivered with a gruff, ironic tone: he began to write it just two days after the fellow country artist was shot and killed in a Nashville bar on 23 November, 2013. “Nothin’ good ever happens after midnight,” so the story goes/You can’t trust nobody, it don’t matter how close,” Cobb sings, over a riff that recalls a more sombre version of his departed friend’s track “Last Honky Tonk”.

From this the album rolls into “Morning’s Gonna Come” which is a straight-up “we’ll regret it in the next day but what the hell” foot-stomp of a song, with a drawling, almost spoken-word delivery on the verses that brings to mind “The South” by The Cadillac Three.

Immediately after is the tender and forlorn “Come Home Soon”, which sees Cobb long for the familiar faces he left behind in Georgia and wonder whether life on the road – pursuing certain dreams – is worth what you have to sacrifice. “Music used to be my way to escape the good, the bad and everything between,” he sings, “Now it’s become what defines my name/Oh, I wonder who it was I used to be.”

But he’s a “Sucker For a Good Time”, as the song contends with a slow, lazy grin, accompanied by a fierce slide guitar from his touring pal “Big Mike” Harris. The funk-driven “30-06”, which sees Cobb backed by the gospel vocals of session singer Kristen Rogers, warns against “messing around with another man’s woman: Gonna cause all kinds of pain”.

“It won’t be mine, I’ll tell you one time/Don’t cross that line, or you’re gonna get fixed with a 30 aught six,” he threatens. On some of these songs it’s as though he’s singing as a character, or as a friend he saw get into a scrape, while album closer “Ain’t A Road Too Long” sounds just like him, as he reflects: “I only do the sort of work that pleases me.”

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But Cobb, who is naturally shy in real life but warm and generous in conversation (if you catch him in the right mood with the right beer in his hand), doesn’t once waver on this record when it comes to the authenticity of his writing. There’s no posturing; he writes what he knows, and he knows a lot about the South.

Where Shine on Rainy Day was more a glass of sweet tea on the porch on a late summer evening, Providence Canyon is a bar brawl after one too many whiskies, and the wincing reflection that comes the day after. (Roisin O’Connor)

Simian Mobile Disco, Murmurations

★★★☆☆

Download: Caught In A Wave, Defender, Murmuration

Under the moniker of Simian Mobile Disco, Jas Shaw and James Ford have forged a career by eschewing the tropes of modern dance music. In the decade or so since the release of their dancefloor-filling debut, Attack Decay Sustain Release, they’ve flitted between pop, electro, techno and house, never perching in one spot for too long, and rather exploring all the space in between.

This album, a collaboration between SMD and the Hackney-based Deep Throat Choir, is the latest swoop into new territory. With thudding techno propulsions throughout, Murmurations is as much an invitation to the dancefloor as it is to get lost in its various textures.

On the album opener, “Boids”, the sound created by the all-female choir is at once synthetic and human, as it swells and billows, before giving way to the thumping beat of “Caught In A Wave”. The live-recorded percussion adds another organic layer as the choral arrangements are chopped and swayed. It’s the first hook-focused track on the album, its earworm refrain weaving between the darkly alluring backing vocals and spacious, echoing music.

“Hey Sister”, sounds like a rave in a church, with its glitchy church bells and sirens building into a rackety romp. “Defender”, the album standout, is again deeply textural, a thumping beat elevated by the soaring choral work. After a disarming solo vocal hook, it explodes, feverish and percussive.

As symbiotic as much of this album is, there are times when the combination of human and machine doesn’t entirely fit. On “Gliders”, for example, an ethereal hum is doused in electronic interference, and it scrapes away at the vocals rather than embellishing them.

On “Murmuration” though, the last track, it’s done excellently – it sounds like daybreak after the shadowy, dreamlike night that envelopes the rest of the album. (Jochan Embley)

Jess Williamson, Cosmic Wink

★★★★☆

Download: I See the White, White Bird, Love On the Piano

Jess Williamson expands her horizons with this third album, blasting open her old introspection for assertions of erotic and spiritual intensity. While a move from her native Texas to LA literally reset her sights, wishing to engage with audiences more than before – that with her bandmate, co-producer and boyfriend Shane Renfro – and a fascination with Jungian and magical thinking have also been crucial.

Cosmic Wink’s echoing sound allows a sort of resonant, gigantic intimacy over rhythms of mostly languid steadiness. The country hush of “Wild Rain” recalls Bobbie Gentry or Dusty Springfield. The escalating indie-rock of “White Bird” and psychedelic chimes of “Dream State”, incantatory like Patti Smith, confirm Williamson will now also use force when required.

Like Cooder, she doesn’t need any specific faith to sense a world outside the mundane. Her dog’s ageing was sufficient inspiration for “I See the White”, a pop song of wonder at love, death and rebirth. Her understanding of reincarnation in “Forever”, meanwhile, is that “surely I was born to love you more”.

“Love, ancient love, warm as the Texan air,” she reaffirms on “Love On the Piano”, continuing “Now I know what sex is there for...” Confessions of vulnerability have rarely sounded so strong. (Nick Hasted)

Ry Cooder, The Prodigal Son

★★★★☆

Download: Gentrification, The Prodigal Son, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Jesus and Woody

Ry Cooder’s long investigation of the permutations of the blues and possibilities of justice comes to rest here in the religious balm which remains inseparable from American music. Though not religious himself, Cooder understands the value of what he terms “reverence”, and the songs which reflect it.

The fierce disgust of the “California trilogy” of historical protest albums which rejuvenated Cooder’s songwriting in the 2000s is more impish on “Gentrification”, in which a querulous old-timer watches “the Googlemen ... coming downtown” to cart him out of his shack and make room for coffee shops.

“Shrinking Man” also considers questions of necessity and dignity over lilting Chuck Berry guitar, and the ragtag rattle of his son Joachim Cooder’s percussion.

The great 1920s bluesman Blind Willie Johnson’s songs let Cooder sink deeper into such matters. “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right” is the essential religious lesson, regularly ripped up by declared believers Theresa May and Donald Trump. “All of us down here are strangers,” Cooder sings to rough gospel backing. “None of us have no home.” Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” then becomes a haunted echo chamber of drones and moans, Cooder’s solitary voice, and his shivering slide guitar.

“Jesus and Woody” finds a weary Christ in gently companionable, heavenly dialogue with Woody Guthrie. “Guess I like sinners better than fascists,” the Messiah allows, explaining the impure Guthrie’s elevation. Cooder, too. (Nick Hasted)

Beach House, 7

★★★★☆

Download: Drunk in LA, Lemon Glow, Woo, Last Ride

On Beach House’s seventh album, Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally venture into new territory while maintaining the same dream pop ethos that began their careers 13 years ago.

While the duo has mainly focused on crafting songs that would translate well at a live show on their past six records, they took a more experimental approach on 7 – writing what came naturally – which meant some songs are sans keyboard or guitar.

Beach House recruited Sonic Boom to help co-produce the record, which kept the songs from being overproduced. Themes surrounding the beauty that comes with darkness and the empathy that stems from trauma fill songs like “Dark Spring” and “Lemon Glow”, while the dangerous side of glamour is analysed in “Drunk in LA”, “Girl of the Year” and “Last Ride.”

Instead of limiting themselves, Beach House are finally embracing all of their creative moments, which have inevitably challenged them to become better artists. (Ilana Kaplan)

Bad Wolves, Disobey

★★★☆☆

Download: Zombie, Hear Me Now, No Masters, Truth or Dare

With Bad Wolves’ debut album, the progressive-rock band attempts to strike a balance between hard rock and radio friendly hits. The supergroup – comprised of metal band members from God Forbid, Devildriver, and Bury Your Dead – formed just last year.

Heavy ballads, like their cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and “Hear Me Now”, are standouts from the record. But “Learn To Live” and “Remember When” don’t quite resonate in comparison to the rest of the project, which sees the group trying their hand at experimentation. However the band remains powerful on “No Masters” and “Truth or Dare”.

One of the main gripes is the length of the record which comes in at 16 tracks – making the album feel clunky at times – but Bad Wolves makes an earnest attempt at breaking into the mainstream with their metal-tinged melodies. (Ilana Kaplan)

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